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EdTech Fast 5 - Tyler DeWitt on captivating the learner

March 27, 2019

Dr. Tyler DeWitt is an educator working at the intersection of teaching, media, and technology. He is the creator of one of the most popular instructional channels on YouTube, and he has given a TED Talk about the need to make science fun, accessible, and engaging for young learners. Tyler led a project supported by Google to create a VR experience that takes viewers inside a human cell. He also is the video author for Interactive General Chemistry, a new university-level digital Chemistry textbook published by Macmillan Learning. Tyler is a frequent speaker at education conferences and workshops, and he is a consultant with educational organizations around the world. You can connect with Tyler via his website or follow him on Twitter.


1. What’s the most overrated topic in education right now?

Artificial Intelligence and "big data." We hear endlessly about how AI and Machine Learning are going to transform education. But when you press visionary executives and marketing reps to explain what these technologies would actually look like when applied to the classroom, where the data would come from, how it could be analyzed, and how this technology would affect teaching practice and student experience, they give non-committal, jargon-filled answers, and then they run away. I fully expect that these technologies will eventually have a tremendous impact on education, but the foreseeable future, they're smoke and mirrors.

2. Does technology motivate creativity?

Absolutely not. I feel that in many cases, technology hinders creativity because you're severely limited in how you can interact with it. When you have a new idea in your mind, getting it realized is often harder with the barriers and limitations of current technology. You can see this with young children doing drawing or painting. They might do a little doodling on a tablet, but making anything complex or really imaginative is tedious and tiresome. When kids really want to get creative, they grab paper, pens, and paints.

3. What app can’t you live without?

My web browser. Wikipedia has become my second brain.

4. What events from your own experience as a learner have informed your approach to your work in education?

After graduating from college, I taught high school for a number of years. My students were great, but they often struggled to grasp material straightaway from the textbook or lecture. However, if I presented information patiently and methodically, my students could eventually master it, understanding it as well as (or better than) others deemed more "gifted." Whenever I sit down to make a video or a VR experience, I think about those first students I taught. How would they need this information presented, so they could understand and eventually master it?

5. Which actor would play you in the movie about your life?

Phillip Seymour Hoffman. May he rest in peace.